Want to make it through 1 April unscathed? Get yourself a sense of humour and be ready to forgive those who plan to make you the butt of their jokes. The year's favourite day for pranksters and least favourite for the gullible, April Fools' Day is upon us and it is time once again to not believe a single thing we hear, read and even see... aside from this article of course!
Most of us who are still feeling the burn from the past years' japes, are once again questioning the origin of this celebration. The history behind All Fools' Day, as it is also called, however, seems as befuddling as that time Google decided to flip their screens and showed all their matter backwards.
April Fish and the calendar switch
There are a number of theories as to the origin of April Fools' Day, but one of the most popular seems to have originated in Europe. Around 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII decided to switch calendars, from the Julian calendar to a new one (known today as the Gregorian calendar). Now, according to the old calendar, New Year's Day fell on 1 April, but the new one celebrated it on 1 January. Those who were slow to realise the change and continued to celebrate the start of the year in April, were often made fun of and paper fish were stuck to their backs without their knowledge and they were called Poisson d'Avril (April Fish) a kind of fish that was very easy to catch.
In 1392, Chaucer, in one of the Canterbury Tales, Nun's Priest's Tale tells the story of a cock who is tricked by a fox. The opening lines of the story mention "Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two" which most probably meant 1 April, though why he did not simply write that, we're not sure.
Blame it on the Flemmish?
A poem written by Flemmish poet Eduard de Dene in 1561 talks of a master who plays a prank on his servant by making him go on silly errands through the day. The poem's title "Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach" is supposed to roughly mean "Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April."
There are numerous other guesses as to the origin of the celebration, but like the more popularly recognised ones mentioned above, none of them really have any historical backing, we are talking about April Fools' Day after all!
Ye old April Fools' pranks
In England, the washing of the lions was a popular prank that seemed to work on a number of occasions. Tickets were sold to watch the non-existent ceremony of the washing of the lions at the Tower of London.
In Scotland, people were sent on silly errands, and tricks, including pinning fake tails and "kick me" signs on people's bottoms were widely practiced.